TORONTO — Mark Buehrle was a man in a hurry.
The Blue Jays starting pitcher had a Tim McGraw concert he wanted to attend with his wife Thursday night, so he made quick work of the Houston Astros and got on his way. In tossing a two-hit shutout, Buehrle led the way as Toronto ended its seven-game losing streak with a much-needed 4-0 victory at Rogers Centre over the team with the worst record in baseball.
Buehrle insisted his postgame plans weren’t on his mind as he mowed down the Astros with remarkable efficiency. The lefty threw 108 pitches over nine innings, striking out nine and wrapping things up in a clean 2 hours and 18 minutes.
"He was just marvelous," Adam Lind said. "He threw the heck out of that baseball tonight."
Buehrle’s domination couldn’t have come at a better time for the struggling Blue Jays, whose bullpen had been taxed during a series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Mixing his pitches and keeping counts low, the 34-year-old rarely got into trouble and dazzled the Astros.
"It was typical Buehrle: When he’s on, when he’s hitting spots, when he’s got that good change-up," manager John Gibbons said. "I thought he did a really good job of hitting some of the right-handers inside tonight to keep them honest. It came along at the time when we definitely needed it because our bullpen’s kind of tired."
The bullpen never stirred because Buehrle (6-7) was always in control. He didn’t allow a hit until Justin Maxwell’s single with two outs in the fifth, and he didn’t flinch after J.D. Martinez’s double in the seventh as the Blue Jays clung to a one-run lead.
"I had everything working," Buehrle said. "Obviously velocity wasn’t there. I was making pitches when I had to, movement was good and keeping the guys off balance. … It was just one of those days that I had everything going for me."
Perhaps because he didn’t overthink the ramifications — either of the Blue Jays’ skid or their fatigued relievers, who combined to throw 13 1/3 innings in the previous three games. Gibbons made it clear his team needed a strong outing from Buehrle, but that didn’t cause undue stress.
"In your mind you know that the bullpen’s been worn out and been used a lot," Buehrle said. "But if they have 10 days off, I’m going out there trying to go as deep in the game as I can. If the guys say, ‘Hey I need to get an inning today,’ I’m still trying to go seven, eight innings every time I’m out there. I don’t put any more pressure or look at the situation like that."
Pressure could have come from pitching in a tight game, as Houston starter Erik Bedard managed to hold the Blue Jays to just one run on three hits through five innings. Limiting the damage to an RBI double by Edwin Encarnacion, the Navan, Ont., native was forced to exit after 95 pitches, and Toronto took advantage of reliever Lucas Harrell to provide Buehrle some insurance.
Jose Bautista, Encarnacion, Lind and Maicer Izturis combined to put three runs on the board in the seventh. Buehrle didn’t need the extra run support, but it sure didn’t hurt, especially one night after the Blue Jays failed to build on their lead and watched it slip away.
"We saw what happened last night when we couldn’t score an additional insurance run, but that’s baseball," said Lind, whose opposite-field double drove in Bautista. "It just makes things a lot easier tonight for our starting pitcher or your bullpen when you can add one or two extra runs."
Izturis’ two-run double made it 4-0, more than enough of a cushion for Buehrle, who rarely even got to a full count against an Astros lineup that features left fielder Chris Carter as its only real power threat and shortstop Jonathan Villar as its only hitter above .300.
But he didn’t want this victory to be discounted because of the opponent.
"I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of people saying that obviously this is the worst team in baseball and record-wise they’re not very good," Buehrle said. "But in my mind they’re still big-league hitters. If you make a mistake, they’re going to make you pay for it. I did make a few mistakes — I got lucky and got away with them."
Nine strikeouts were the most for Buehrle since 12 on April 16, 2005. But he didn’t react like picking up Toronto’s first win since July 13 was anything special.
"I think it was just like any other game we’ve won," Buehrle said. "I don’t think it’s any bigger that we’ve lost seven in a row and we finally won a game as opposed to winning three or four in a row. Guys were happy, music’s playing."
Minutes later Buehrle was off to watch McGraw, even though he didn’t request that music to play in celebration.
"He could’ve played whatever he wanted tonight," Lind said.